culture, Expat

Bloom Where You Are Planted: 6 Surprising Cultural Transplants

Bloom where you are planted is a popular mantra in expat circles, one that we cling tightly to when we are struggling to adjust to a new location. Occasionally, expats bloom so brilliantly that they can slip under the radar and pass for local. Admittedly, this can range from completely blending in, to a fleeting moment in the opening words of a conversation, before the local turns to you and notices that you look different, picks up on a foreign inflection or sees that you have an unpronounceable name and some other nationality stamped on your passport.

Equally cultural transplants are sometimes absorbed into new cultures, these objects or ideas become so entrenched in their host location that they are incorrectly assumed to be indigenous.

Here are 6 successful and surprising cultural transplants that have not only bloomed where they were planted, but have taken root and become embedded, embraced and treasured in their new locations. You might be amazed, especially by the last cultural transplant on the list, the big man himself, Santa!

Tulips from Amsterdam


The Netherlands are world famous for abundant and brightly coloured tulip fields. Each field a neat and vibrant rectangle stretching across the flat horizon. However, when we moved to Istanbul we learned that tulips are indigenous to Turkey and Central Asia and were originally imported to the Netherlands from Turkey.

The golden era of Turkey’s Ottoman empire, (1718-1730), is referred to as the Tulip Era. The tulip, (Iale – pronounced lah-lay), remains a popular motif used in traditional and modern ceramic and textile designs. It also features in Turkey’s tourism logo.

Even the tea glasses are tulip shaped and sized. Of course tea, important in Turkish culture (among many others), doesn’t come from Turkey. As you likely know, it originated in China and arrived via the Silk Route.

Tulip Top Tip

Problem: You avoid buying tulips because they droop so quickly.

Solution: Put a copper coin in your vase, they will last far longer. British 2p and 1p coins work a treat.

Tartan Army

Kilts are unmistakably Scottish, so I was confused to discover that the men of the Pedi tribe of Southern Africa wear them. There are several theories as to how the Pedi swapped their previous attire for tartan. One account tells of the Pedi losing a battle against a Scottish army regiment, having mistaken their kilts for skirts, and male soldiers for women. Subsequently, the kilts were adopted to remind them never to make the same error again.

Man wearing traditional Pedi Kilt in South Africa
A taste of Scotland in South Africa.

You can read a little more about other traditional South Africa attire and customs in this post: Visit Lesedi Cultural Village: Eat Worms and Spit on Stones.

Jacaranda Trees

jacaranda trees south africa

We will forever more associate Jacaranda trees with the purple blossom lined avenues of Johannesburg and Pretoria, South Africa, where we first came across them. However, they are transplants that came from South America.

Red White and Blue Bags

We first noticed distinctive red, white and blue bags in Nigeria and presumed they were Nigerian. Next we spotted them in Turkey and wondered if they were imported from West Africa. Then we moved to South Africa where friends told us that no, they were definitely ‘Zimbabwe bags’. We thought the bags were following us, until we finally discovered that we had in fact been following them. They originate from right from here in our current home city of Hong Kong.

If you’re interested, you can read more about the history of these bags in the Zolima City Magazine article below.

Lucky Cat

I’m sending you good vibes, best wishes and good fortune from Hong Kong via this cheerful cat in a hat. Lucky waving cats similar to this one are common in this part of the world. We always assumed they were Chinese, however apparently, they are called Maneki Neko and originate from Japan.

maneki neko waving cat

Moreover, we’ve always referred to them as waving cats, however, they are actually beckoning cats. So I guess that makes Maneki Neko an expat cat whose message has been lost in translation!

St Nicholas

Living in Turkey, we learned that the historical figure behind the legend of St Nicholas, (also known variously as Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Noel Baba and Sinterklaas), was of Greek descent and came from the Lycian region.

Born in Patara, located in south eastern Turkey. Nicholas of Myra rose to become a Christian bishop, also known as Nicholas of Bari or Nicholas the Wonderworker. Several tales of his good deeds and kindness survive.

st nicholas of myra fresco turkey

We visited the ruins of the Byzantian church in Myra, where his tomb was said to be, amidst ancient frescos and mosaics. At that time, the tomb was empty and it was believed that St Nicholas’ remains had be taken to Bari, Italy. However, in 2017 another tomb was found within the church leading archeologists to wonder whether his remains could still be in Turkey.

St Nick Summary:

  • Of Greek descent, he was born in Patara, Turkey.
  • Debate continues as to whether his remains are in Turkey or Italy. But of course we know that neither of those options can be true, because Santa is alive and kicking.
  • Some say he lives in Lapland, others are sure he resides in the North Pole. Most likely, he has toy factories, elves and homes in both.
  • He is an international jet setter, travelling all over the world every 24th of December.
  • Rumour has it, that he likes to take a well earned break in Beau Constantia, South Africa.

That’s the end of our list. Tulips, jacaranda trees, kilts, travel bags, lucky cats and Santa are just a few cultural transplants we have met on our travels. Did any them surprise you? What fascinating cultural transplant gems have you unveiled on your travels?

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